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Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
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Volume 19, Issue 1 - Jan/Feb
  The Ranging Shot Email Todd:
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Todd Spotti
     Itís early November and I have two pre-production prototype binoculars in my hands from Alpen Optics. One is a 10x32 Rainier model (Alpenís top of the line premium series) and the other is a 10x50 Teton model (one step down). As mentioned, these are prototypes, but all major, and nearly all of the minor issues have been put to bed. Subsequently, these binocs are very, very close to the final product which will probably hit the dealerís shelves in April 08. Itís very unusual that a manufacturer will let a writer work with a prototype, even a near production prototype. Consequently, I feel very lucky to have this opportunity.
     Letís take a look at the made in Japan, premium quality, 10x32 Rainierís first. Theyíre what I would call a semi- compact binocular measuring roughly 5Ē x 4.75Ē. I like these new 10x32s as they are a handy size thatís small enough to fit into the pocket of a G.I. fatigue jacket or most parkas. They also weigh less than their big brothers. But, the overall size is still large enough that thereís plenty of room to pack in lots of good sized, image enhancing lenses. The little itty bitty binocs that one often sees just canít deliver the brightness and resolution that a serious outdoors person needs in demanding real world conditions. This is because the case on those little binocs is just too small to accommodate the necessary optics.

"New for 2008, Alpen's Rainier and Teton binoculars are premium quality and suited for silhouette spotting from a tripod."

     Alpen has gone all out with the Rainierís. For instance, the body is cast magnesium. Compare that to a certain Austrian premium brand that uses cheaper and heavier aluminum instead, and yet, charges several hundred dollars more. The Rainierís also utilize apocromatic lenses. In a previous story on a Nikon spotting scope (see ďThe best 60mm Spotting Scope on The PlanetĒ at LASC.US) I explained that almost all sports optics products use objective lenses that are a sandwich of two different types of glass. While this design can provide very good quality images when high quality glass and coatings are used, it still falls short in some important wave lengths. The best objective lenses use apocromatic lenses which have a minimum of three layers of different optical glasses. The Rainierís objective lenses have even more layers.
     The BaK4 roof prisms (the best kind) in the Rainierís are 25% larger than the prisms in other binoculars and have both phase coating and multicoating as well. Many binoculars have only a single coating on their prisms or perhaps multicoating only, or they may be phase coated but not multicoated. To have both types of coating on the prisms is one of the marks of a high quality optic. In fact, there are literally dozens and dozens of layers of these optical coatings on the Rainierís to ensure superlative image viewing. To further maximize image quality, oversized lenses are also used in the Rainierís internal optical train.
     Using the Rainierís at the range and in the field was a lot of fun. First of all, theyíre tripod adaptable which makes them compatible with spotting handgun silhouettes or other competitive sports. Some people mistakenly convince themselves that you absolutely need a super power spotting scope to spot targets. Tainít so. In previous reviews, Iíve had no problem seeing hits or misses with ten power binocs provided they were of good or better quality. Thereís also nothing like that 3D view when spotting that you can only get from binoculars.
     Additionally, the eyepieces have three position snap out eyecups that are very positive when you rotate them. These are very handy for preventing stray light coming in from the side and degrading the image in the eyepiece. Another thing I really liked was the fact that the diopter adjustment on the right eyepiece can be locked in place once you set it for your eye. Just lift up on the ring to unlock and twist to adjust, and then push it back down to lock. No more having the right lens slip out of adjustment during handling. I especially liked the nice 15 mmís of eye relief, as it made viewing very comfortable, even when wearing my glasses. The front lens covers are also tethered to the binocs so they canít get lost. Now if only someone could figure out how to do that for the rear covers as well, Iíd really be set. Iím always losing those things.
     The viewing with the Reiniers was extremely impressive. Everything was bright and clear with no distortions. When checking out a humming bird across the yard, I felt I could actually count the feathers on the little guy. Even when he flew down into the depths of a deeply shaded shrub, the image was nice and bright. I even tried out the Reiniers during twilight and at night, and still got a very nice image. This thing sucks up photons like a vacuum cleaner - just what you need for coyote hunting at night.
     One of the other things that especially impressed me was the fact that color fidelity was spot on. I looked very hard to see if there was any shading, tinting, or color fringing of any kind and I found absolutely none.
     Nothing puzzles me more than to look through a big bucks optic of some kind and to see a deliberately tinted image - often gray. Evidently some manufacturers feel this tinting provides a better view. It doesnít. It just dilutes the colors and makes things look artificial. You donít get washed out colors with the Alpenís.
     Resolution on the Rainierís was also outstanding. When hand holding the binocs on a high power transmission tower 300 yards away, I could easily see rivets and bolt heads, rust spots, and the rows of spikes designed to keep birds off of the wires. This was first class viewing.
     The Reiniers have a pricey MSRP, but as we all know, very substantial discounts are available from the internet retailers. Never the less, top of the line Japanese optical quality has its cost. However, if you absolutely canít fit the Reiniers into your budget, then consider the Tetons.
     The Tetons are also made in Japan and are a hybrid design consisting of the superb Rainier eyepieces and the body optical system from the Alpen Apex binoculars that I favorably reviewed a couple of years ago. Just like what the auto makers often do, when compatible systems from two different models are combined together, a third model can be crafted. The advantage of this happy marriage is that a very capable system can be put together at less cost because youíre using existing parts. What this means to you and me in dollars and cents is that the Tetons will cost $200-$300 less than the Rainierís. Hereís what you get with the 50mm Tetons:
  • The Rainier eyepiece design
  • BaK4 prisms with over 60 layers of phase coating and multicoating
  • 19 mmís of eye relief (even more than the 10x32 Rainiers)
  • 3 position twist out eye cups
  • Quiet click adjustable diopter adjustment
  • Tripod adaptable
  • Apocromatic objective lenses
     So what aren't you getting with the Tetons vrs the Rainiers? Well instead of a magnesium body, youíre getting a polycarbonate body - and thatís not a bad thing. Polycarbonate is actually a very good, strong material and it works very well. Youíre also not getting the diopter lock. Most of all, youíre not getting the larger Rainier roof prisms or the more capable Rainier objective lenses.
     So how do the Reiniers and the Tetons compare in the field? To be honest, in bright daylight conditions I actually couldnít tell any difference in the quality of image produced by either model - which is actually a complement to the more expensive Rainiers. What? Youíre probably thinking Iíve flipped out or something. Consider this. The Rainiers that I had on hand were providing a beautifully bright image using 32mm lenses while the less costly Tetons are doing it with 50mm lenses. Big difference. When it comes to brightness, lens diameter is very important. Size does matter. Bottom line - when it came to brightness, crispness, and color correctness, they appeared identical in bright sunlight. However, at night, in heavy overcast or in deep woods conditions, the Reiniers would definitely have the optical advantage.
     Of course the size of the Tetons can be a disadvantage to a certain extent. There're longer and wider (6.75ĒĒ x 5Ē). They also weigh 5 ounces more than the Reiniers. However, if youíre going to use the Tetons for silhouette target spotting from a tripod, weight and size aren't a problem if you have a good solid tripod. In fact, they may be an advantage as it could contribute to stability. If you want smaller, lighter binocs for a long carry in the field etc., the Raniers might be a better choice. Of course, if you want an even brighter image, the 8x42 or 10x42 Rainier would be the way to go. However, when it comes to bang for the buck, the 50mm Tetons are hard to beat. They also come in an 8.5 x 50 as well. 
     If the Tetons are out of your budget too, then definitely look at the previously mentioned Alpen Apex binocs. Theyíre made in China but in a Japanese owned and run factory, and the quality and performance is very good. They also cost only around half of what the Tetons run. Checkíem out. Theyíre all top drawer. My review of the Apex can also be found at LASC.US.
Small & Fast for Half Scale
     I was talking to my old friend Jerry Bruce the other day about shooting half scale. Heíd been experimenting with a TC barrel chambered in 204 Ruger. When he mentioned this, it rang a responsive cord as I had just recently purchased a Cooper varmint rifle chambered for the same. If youíre not familiar with the 204, itís simply a 222 Mag case necked down to 20 caliber. While a variety of bullets are available for it, the most common are 32, 39, and 40 grains in weight. The advantages are excellent ballistic coefficients for the weight of the bullets and dazzling velocities. 4000 fps and more in a rifle is very easy to achieve, although many people keep their loads to around the 3800ís.
     I asked Jerry if the 204 had enough push to knock down the half scale targets and whether they would damage the targets. He replied yes to both questions. In an experiment, he shot a full sized pig with a normal 204 load using a 39 gr Sierra Blitz King bullet out of his TC. Jerry said the big pig went down like it was hit with a 10 lb sledge hammer. When he went out to check it during a line break, he found to his embarrassment that the pig was deeply cratered. Jerry immediately knew that he would have to reduce the load. After trying a couple of different things, Jerry settled on 18 grs of AA5744 with the same 39 gr Sierra Blitz King. As you know, AA5744 is an excellent powder for reduced, low volume loads. Velocity out of the TC was now in the middle 2700ís. Jerry reported that when shot scoped off sand bags, the TC would shoot groups the size of a dime at 50 yards. 
     I decided to try Jerryís load out of my Cooper just for fun. Iíd also shoot some regular half scale targets to check knock down and inspect target damage. The Cooper is a beautiful gun and incredibly accurate. Quarter inch groups with 32 and 39 grain Sierra bullets and 32 and 40 grain Nosler's are routine. Itís definitely the most accurate rifle Iíve ever owned.
     The Cooper is topped with a Weaver 6x20x40 Grand Slam scope sitting in Leupold rings which are furnished with the gun. This scope is a real bargain and can be purchased on the internet for around $350. Itís a great middle priced optic that gives a lot for the money. The image is super clear and bright. Even when set on 20X, you get a superior, bright image. This is no doubt due to what are obviously very good quality lens materials and high grade polishing coupled with full multi-coating. I suspect that Weaverís parent company, Meade Corp, transferred some technology and design expertise into the production of this scope. The windage and elevation adjustments are also firm and positive. Thereís a fast focus eyepiece for easy crosshair adjustment and the rubber covering over the scope means that youíll never have to worry about the rings marring the scope body.
     I duplicated Jerryís load except I used a Nosler 40 grain bullet instead. Iíve used both Sierraís and Noslerís in the Cooper with many different kinds of powders. I would have to say that for this gun, the Sierras had a slight edge in that they would work with more powders than the Noslerís. In other words, the Noslerís always shot well, but you had to pick your powders a little more carefully to get the very best performance than you had to with the Sierras. Anyway, a 40 grain Nosler went into a Hornady case with 18 grains of 5744 and was ignited by a Winchester primer. It would be interesting to see how the Noslerís like 5744. The velocity measured at 2967 fps with a standard deviation of 16 fps. This was 200 fps faster than what the load was doing out of Jerryís TC. As usual, I used Redding dies to assemble the ammo including their competition seating die. As you know, Redding doesnít make products for regular shooters but rather for people who want something more than whatís ďaverageĒ. If you want to wring the best accuracy from any load, you need one of Reddingís competition dies.

"Nosler 40 grainers and AA5744 make a heck of a combination."

     I loaded up 25 rounds and then shot Jerryís load for accuracy. The first shot out of a clean cold barrel was exactly dead center. ďA good startĒ I thought to myself. With the barrel now fouled, I then fired another five shots which then stacked right exactly on top of each other just to the 11 oíclock position of the first shot. The group was a mere .106 inches. Yep, I guess the Noslerís like 5744.
     I then got one of our clubís T-1 half scale chickens and a half sized ram. I noticed that one side of the chicken was pock marked pretty well from the 6.5mm bullets that everyone is using these days. The other side was still pretty smooth however. I set up the chicken smooth side forward at 50 meters and fired away. When the sear broke the chicken just disappeared from sight. It went down so hard and so fast I thought for sure that the target was probably damaged. Nope. When I examined the target, I found a small splash mark and nothing more. No moon crater. Great! I then took a shot on the half scale 200 meter ram and asked my friend Harry to spot with his Alpen Model 788 80mm spotting scope. I didnít have a scope setting for 200 meters so I just guessed at one. I fired and the ram disappeared. Harry said it didnít just knock the ram down, it slammed the ram down. When I pulled the ram and examined it, I found a small bright splash mark about a half inch above the belly line and no damage what so ever - just like the chicken. What this was telling me that any load developing 2967 fps or less was perfectly safe to use on T-1 targets. It also told me that that the 204 Ruger is a great cartridge to use for half scale. Itís got great knock down, super flat trajectories, low cost, and has very low recoil as a additional bonus. Sounds pretty good to me.
New Cartridge from Ruger & Federal
     This looks very interesting. In essence this is a kind of 32 Super Mag that is supposed to have similar performance to a 357 Mag with 20% less recoil. Itís called the .327 Federal Magnum. It obviously is being oriented towards the self defense market as Ruger is chambering its SP101 revolver for it with a three inch barrel. (Believe it or not, the 32 H&R Mag was originally designed as a self defense cartridge also.) However, the new .327 looks like a natural fit for a TC barrel, Field Pistol silhouettes, and small game hunting. Who knows, maybe someone will even squeeze the case down to .308 and use it with heavy bullets on the long range targets ala Jim Rockís ďSuper SlowĒ loading which did the same with 32 H&R cases. (Letís see, I think I still have those Redding dies around here somewhere.) It was a real ram slammer at the time.
Micro Engraving Part II
     A couple of months ago, I told you about a law that was winding its way through the California legislature which would require the tip of firing pins on semi auto handguns to be engraved with the serial number of the gun. (A new laser technology makes this possible.) The idea behind this proposal was that ejected cases would be stamped with the serial number when the gun was fired. If the gun was used in a crime, the shooter theoretically could then be traced.
     Like so many proposals submitted by legislators who know nothing about guns, the idea sounded good on the surface. However, as I previously pointed out in these pages, the idea was loaded with all kinds of technical problems that would render any stamp on the primer illegible. The legislatureís own study of the proposal also concluded that the idea was not practical. However, that didnít deter the anti gun nuts from pushing the bill as hard as they could.
     When the bill was being discussed in the California House, I called my state representativeís office and expressed my wish that he not vote in favor of the bill and gave my reasons. He subsequently voted against the bill, but it still passed and went on to the state Senate. I then personally visited the local office of my state senator and went through the drill again. Subsequently, my senator also voted against the bill, but it passed again.
     Finally, it went before the governor who could veto the bill or sign it. I sent a short but thorough email to the governorís office asking him to veto the bill. No luck. He signed it, so in a couple of years time, new semi auto handguns will be required to have these itty bitty serial numbers on the firing pin tip. In response, the gun manufacturers have said that they just wonít sell semi autos in California any more. Gee, do you think that might have been the real goal of the anti gun proponents all along - to get the manufacturers to stop selling semi auto handguns in California? You bet!
     OK, hereís my point. I had been discussing the progress of the bill with several of my gun owning friends for several months. They were as upset about it as I was. When the bill was finally signed into law, I asked them how their representatives voted on the proposal. They didnít know. ďHow could you not knowĒ I asked. ďTheyíll usually send you an email after you contact them and after the bill comes up.Ē Well, they admitted they never contacted their representatives - and thereís the problem.
     In this day of cell phones, texting, emails, etc. contacting our government representatives is extremely easy. Why would anyone not stand up for their rights? How can we prevent our guns from being legislated away if super active shooters like my friends wonít pick up the phone to speak out? No matter the issue, as citizens, we not only have the right to tell our representatives what we want them to do, we have an obligation to do so. We pay their salaries, they work for us, and we canít assume that theyíll do the right thing for us. Itís not enough to just vote, but to also monitor what our representatives are doing and to guide them as best as we can. If dedicated gun owners wonít do something as simple as that, we have a very big problem. (BTW, the contact info for your federal and state reps is in the front of the phone book under ďGovernmentĒ).
     Getting back to micro-engraving. Donít be tempted to laugh up your sleeve about us poor shmucks in California. Now that this thing is real, several states in the Midwest and the East are looking into doing the same. Your turn is coming. Speak out for your rights.
Good luck and good shooting. Todd

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.